News & tips
This article looks at the differences between Power BI and Google Data Studio, highlighting the key differences and providing examples of where they fit best.
Microsoft Power BI is a leading reporting and business intelligence tool.
It is available in a number of different versions, ranging from a free desktop application to a full enterprise-level cloud service.
We have looked in detail at what Power BI is and how Power BI licencing works previously if you would like more detail.
Google is a business intelligence tool launched by Google in mid-2016. It is part of Google’s cloud platform offering.
Visually it is very similar to Google’s ever-expanding suite of tools like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar.
As you would expect, it works particularly well with other Google suite data sources, particularly Google analytics.
However, it is not limited to Google and can connect to a number of different data sources.
Google Data Studio is a relatively lightweight solution that generates insights quickly and simply.
For a fuller introduction to Google Data Studio see:
Power BI and Google Data Studio allow you to integrate and visualise data but do so in quite different ways.
Let’s look at how they differ.
Power BI has a number of different offerings, as mentioned above where we discussed licencing. The basic installation of Power BI is a desktop application that you install on your desktop.
Installing Power BI is quick and straightforward provided you have a modern PC with 4Gb of RAM (ideally 8 Gb) and running Windows 8 or later.
Power BI is a Microsoft product, and so unsurprisingly isn’t available for Macs.
There is only one offering of Google Data Studio and it is completely web-based, meaning you do not need to install anything on your computer.
You log in to Google Data Studio in the same way as you do any Google product.
Power BI connects to a wide variety and ever-expanding list of data sources with pre-built connectors
In addition, web connectors are available, so you can import data from almost any data source, including Amazon, Google and other Microsoft competitors. To see how this works in practice, see this article on connecting power bi to SQL server.
A list of data sources Power BI can connect to can be found here.
Google Data Studio’s list of data sources is much smaller.
Google Data Studio offers 18 connectors built by Google, most of which are for other Google Services. There are also 400+ connectors built by Data Studio Partners.
Browsing through the connectors list, you will start to see that the connectors are predominantly for advertising, media, and content-related data sources.
Power BI offers a full range of transformation options using its Power Query engine.
Power Query lets you perform ETL (extract, transform and load) functions on your data and prepare it for visualisation.
Power BI enables you to take data from multiple sources and combine it. The data can be drawn from almost any source, and you can then prepare and model it, all within the tool.
The user interface offers a huge number of standard options and also allows advanced users to use code (See here for an Introduction to DAX) to transform data if required.
Google Data Studio provides limited options when it comes to data preparation and transformation.
The main option is blending datasets, which is essentially merging two similar datasets.
If you want to go beyond that with your data transformation, you will need to prepare your data outside Google Data Studio and then connect it to the cleaned dataset.
Power BI is very similar to Excel, something that almost all data professionals are already very comfortable with.
Its interface uses a menu and ribbons, and so most people find it very easy to navigate.
Despite this learning to use Power BI still takes some time as there are substantially more options and features in Power BI than Excel.
Creating a basic report is straightforward for Excel veterans, but creating something engaging and beautiful will take practice. The good news is that there is lots of helpful content online to help.
Google Data Studio is very simple to use. The user interface offers drag and drop functionality, and the limited options are intuitively laid out.
As there aren’t many bells and whistles in Google Data Studio, becoming proficient is significantly easier than Power BI.
Power BI offers a huge range of data visualisations.
Power BI has a range of standard visuals built-in like bar charts, line graphs, and maps.
In addition, Power BI has a marketplace with roughly 350 additional data visualisations that you can bring into your reports. Since many of the additional visuals are created by the Power BI community, this number will continue to grow over time.
Creating your own custom visuals is also possible if you have a unique problem or use case.
Like Power BI, Google Data Studio comes with basic visualisations included as standard. The big difference is that it does not benefit from a marketplace, so Google Data Studio has far fewer additional visualisations to choose from (~40) in total. The list can be found here.
Both Power BI and Google Data Studio can create visually stunning reports.
As you might expect Power BI offering more visual features (for example, creating custom themes) but Google Data Studio offers plenty of options so you can create great reports in either.
Power BI Report Example via community.powerbi.com
Google Data Studio Report via datastudio.google.com/gallery
You need a paid subscription (enterprise account) to share your work using the cloud.
An enterprise account allows you to share your data via the web, embed it on websites or SharePoint.
A free Power BI Desktop licence only allows you to share your data using a shared drive or email.
Google Data Studio is based in the cloud and makes sharing very simple.
To share a report, you simply add a user to the report. The process is exactly the same as adding someone to a document on Google Drive or another Google service.
Power BI comes with robust security as standard.
You can integrate with Active Directory in the enterprise version, creating a seamless login and navigation experience for users. This integration also allows for advanced features like row-level security. Row-level security is the practice of allowing a user only to see data that is related to them as a user.
For example, you could limit someone to only seeing data from their business unit or region and not all company data.
Google Data Studio’s security features are minimal by comparison.
For each user, you can assign them a role that can either view or edit any report. Allocating roles is the full extent of Data Studio’s security features.
Power BI offers four different pricing options, in addition to Power BI Desktop, which is free.
The options range from Power BI Desktop, the free version, all the way through to the enterprise version, which costs thousands of dollars per month and provides a complete big data solution for running a real-time data warehouse.
A complete comparison of the options can be found here.
From Microsoft’s website, in $USD.
The best part about Google Data Studio is that it is entirely free to use and so you can build reports and share your work, all without paying anything.
Currently Google Data Studio does not offer any machine learning capabilities.
Power BI’s enterprise licences include significant machine learning capabilities including automated machine learning.
There are a number of other providers of business intelligence and data visualisation solutions. These include Tableau, Qlik and MicroStrategy.
Each tool provides similar functionality but comes with different pros and cons. It is essential to understand the other tools available so that you can get the one that is best suited to your particular use case.
Based on Gartner’s research for 2021, below are the top business intelligence tools in the market.
Power BI is a great Power BI solution across the board.
It has a number of offerings that are well-targeted and designed for their target markets.
For example, Power BI Desktop is an excellent solution for people just getting started with business intelligence, whereas Power BI Service works well for enterprises with large scale data practices.
The variety of offerings means that Microsoft Power BI can grow with you as a user or an organisation and provide the functionality needed at all points along the journey.
Google Data Studio is more of a niche tool than a go-to solution.
There are three key areas where it makes sense.
There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to business intelligence.
It never hurts to try different tools as a data user, and both Power BI and Google Data Studio are great additions to your toolbelt. Power BI is a much more feature-rich tool, but that also comes with complexity and some cost.